Diversity policies are fragmenting University

by By Ian

The University has paid a steep price for its diversity policies in recent years.
Diversity policies have divided us. A few years ago, the Hoover Institution’s Thomas Sowell noticed a headline on page one of the “Chronicle of Higher Education.” It read, “Racial tensions continue to erupt on campuses despite efforts to promote racial diversity.” But what struck Sowell was what the article did not say. He said,”The very possibility that these `cultural diversity’ efforts themselves have contributed to the tensions was not mentioned anywhere in the accompanying story.”
Our own campus is no exception. Again and again, the administration has officially wrung its hands over racial and other tensions on campus, and then it has gone on to adopt diversity policies that have polarized us even further. After all, diversity is about differences. So policies to promote diversity necessarily emphasize what divides us rather than what we have in common. Diversity policies have perversely wound up heightening our identification with skin color, national origin and gender, which drives wedges between us.
The University’s diversity pork barrel has balkanized the campus. One of the consequences of the University’s diversity agenda is that our differences have become the basis for entitlements to the University’s resources. (Actually, “diversity” is mostly a new label for old programs of racial and sexual preference.) Groups on campus have discovered that their access to the University’s diversity pork barrel — and other forms of preferential treatment — depends on how persecuted or oppressed or victimized they are. Predictably, that has set off a sort of race to the bottom in which each group has tried to establish who is more victimized.
Diversity and blaming. Because the University’s diversity policies have granted groups (and individuals) preferential treatment based on their victimization, the past decade has seen an epidemic of charges of victimization. At its peak (or trough?) a few years ago, hardly a day seemed to go by without fresh charges of racism, sexism and homophobia — and for years the campus has been inundated by a tidal wave of litigation over alleged discrimination.
Diversity policies have not, as advertised, brought us together — except, of course, when we are at one another’s throats. Instead, they have splintered and balkanized our campus into a lot of jealous and resentful special interests based on race, sex and sexual orientation.
Diversity’s threat to academic freedom. When students and faculty are judged by the color of their skin rather than by the content of their minds, the threat to academic standards is clear. But the University’s diversity policies have threatened academic freedom in other ways as well. A few years back, frustrated by the failure of the University to quickly attain a student body and faculty that, like Bill Clinton’s cabinet, “looks like America,” the University administration concluded that the culprit was a hostile learning environment. To achieve diversity, it reasoned, we have to make the campus a more hospitable, nurturing and supportive environment for nontraditional students. As a campus task force said, “Successful education can only occur in an atmosphere of mutual respect, free from racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice and intolerance.”
That was the theory (I think it is pure hokum). The practical result was an official campaign to try to eliminate the supposed pervasive bias in the classroom and curriculum and elsewhere that undermines the self-esteem of minorities and women and so prevents them from realizing true equality. This campaign led to several notorious cases of censorship. It also resulted in an official campaign to encourage students to inform one another and to get us to censor classroom materials that sin against diversity.
The truth is that all of us — including members of protected classes — are losers if our classes are sanitized to avoid hurting our feelings. History Professor Joseph Altholz said it best: “At a university, there is no right to be offended; quite the contrary. The consequences of being offended are known as education. I teach history. History is the record of the crimes and follies of mankind … If you are not offended, you have not been educated.” Amen.
Stamping out diversity in the name of diversity. If you look closely, you’ll notice that not all diversity is welcome on campus. For example, diversity doesn’t mean affirmative action for grossly underrepresented groups on campus like conservatives or pro-lifers. Apparently, the only diversity that counts is biological or lifestyle diversity. As I have described, the University has tried to regulate ideological and intellectual diversity in order to promote diversity. The result is what someone called “a great diversity of like minds.”
Advocates of diversity don’t practice what they preach. Conservatives need not apply for positions in the University’s women studies department (which, by the way, is probably the only single-sex department on campus). A professor there has said that someone like the Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten (who calls herself a conservative feminist) would never be hired by the program. Why? Her “use of the term feminist is disingenuous,” said the professor. “There are no anti-feminists (in our department), which is what I consider her to be. To be a feminist is to recognize that gender is the source of oppression.”
Universities are (and should be) about excellence in creating and disseminating knowledge, not in diversity. I personally expect that one of the by-products of the pursuit of excellence will be a more diverse faculty and student body. But if I am wrong — if, say, an unswerving commitment to excellence led to a physics department made up of entirely Jewish and Chinese males — then my attitude would be: So be it.
Ian Maitland is an associate professor of business, government and society in the Carlson School of Management. This article is adapted from remarks at a Center of the American Experiment forum in 1995.